Dif­fer­ences in the DA’s race

Can­di­dates’ stances on a va­ri­ety of the is­sues spelled out

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Metro - By Em­i­lie Ea­ton STAFF WRITER

The two can­di­dates for Bexar County dis­trict at­tor­ney stood feet apart on the makeshift stage at St. Mary’s Univer­sity’s School of Law, where more than 100 stu­dents, fac­ulty and vot­ers had gath­ered to see them face off.

In some ways, the can­di­dates ap­peared sim­i­lar. Both were dressed in suits, white dress shirts and striped ties. Both have roughly 30 years ex­pe­ri­ence serv­ing as Bexar County as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors and later as crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­neys.

But as the de­bate com­menced, the dif­fer­ences be­tween Demo­crat Joe D. Gon­za­les and Repub­li­can Tylden Sha­ef­fer be­came ap­par­ent. Asked by the mod­er­a­tors whether bail re­form was needed in Bexar County, the can­di­dates di­verged.

“I chal­lenge any­one to tell me that there’s some­one who’s in­no­cent in Bexar County Jail on the first of­fense, non­vi­o­lent, that is stuck in there be­cause they can’t af­ford bail,” Sha­ef­fer said. “We have a pro­gram where these cases are re­viewed.”

Min­utes later, Gon­za­les re­sponded: “Mr. Sha­ef­fer, I’ll take that chal­lenge be­cause in the last 22 years, I’ve had a num­ber of clients come to us and hire us af­ter their loved one has been sit­ting in jail for months be­cause they didn’t want to take a plea bar­gain.”

Gon­za­les, 59, has de­scribed him- self as a hard worker from a fam­ily of mod­est means who re­lied on part-time jobs and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to pay for col­lege and law school. Through­out his cam­paign, he has ad­vo­cated for crim­i­nal jus­tice and bail bond re­form. The race, he said, is about is­sues and “the dif­fer­ence in our vi­sion.”

Sha­ef­fer, 55, sees him­self as a “tough-as-nails pros­e­cu­tor” who will take vi­o­lent crim­i­nals off the street and put them be­hind bars. He wants to create a cy­ber crime unit to pro­tect in­di­vid­u­als and busi­nesses from tele­mar­ket­ing and in­ter­net scams.

Both have said they in­tend to di­rect more re­sources to­ward a grow­ing num­ber of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases in Bexar County and to make the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice more trans­par­ent.

Here are the can­di­dates’ po­si­tions:

The de­ci­sion to run: Gon­za­les and Sha­ef­fer shared the same mo­ti­va­tion to run for the of­fice. Both be­lieved Dis­trict At­tor­ney Nico La­Hood, a con­tro­ver­sial first-term in­cum­bent, was not suited for the job.

Gon­za­les said that be­came clear when La­Hood, while in a judge’s cham­bers, al­legedly threat­ened to “shut down” Gon­za­les’ pri­vate prac­tice.

At the time, Gon­za­les and his part­ner were de­fend­ing a mur­der sus­pect and told La­Hood they might raise is­sues of pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­con­duct about the case. La­Hood de­nied he made a threat. Gon­za­les de­feated La­Hood in the Demo­cratic pri­mary by nearly a 20point mar­gin.

Sha­ef­fer, mean­while, said he was con­cerned about La­Hood’s role in a fi­nan­cial ser­vices com­pany with a part­ner, Gary Cain.

That com­pany did work for FourWinds Lo­gis­tics, a startup oil field ser­vices com­pany that hired Cain as a con­sul­tant. When an in­vestor went to La­Hood, while he was dis­trict at­tor­ney, to alert him to pos­si­ble wrong­do­ing at FourWinds, La­Hood didn’t dis­close his own con­nec­tion to the firm, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said. They ex­posed FourWinds as a Ponzi scheme that de­frauded in­vestors. Cain and for­mer state Sen. Car­los Uresti were found guilty of fed­eral charges re­lated to wire fraud and money laun­der­ing.

Their ex­pe­ri­ence: Sha­ef­fer, who grad­u­ated from Brown Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Texas School of Law, has eight years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a county as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tor. For the past 19 years, Sha­ef­fer has worked in pri­vate prac­tice. He is board cer­ti­fied in crim­i­nal law — a dis­tinc­tion that only seven per­cent of li­censed at­tor­neys in Texas hold.

Gon­za­les re­ceived both his de­grees from St. Mary’s Univer­sity be­fore serv­ing as an as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tor in Bexar and Har­ris coun­ties for eight years. He opened his pri­vate prac­tice in 1998 and has served as a mag­is­trate and mu­nic­i­pal judge for the city of San An­to­nio.

Crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form: Gon­za­les cen­ters his plat­form on the need for bail and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form in Bexar County. He said an “over­whelm­ing” num­ber of in­mates are in jail while await­ing trial be­cause they can’t af­ford to post bond. Pre­trial in­car­cer­a­tion should be lim­ited to those deemed too dan­ger­ous to re­lease, Gon­za­les said. He sup­ports the use of per­sonal re­cog­ni­zance bonds for non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers. A per­sonal re­cog­ni­zance bond does not re­quire the de­fen­dant to pay — he or she sim­ply must agree to ap­pear in court as re­quired.

Gon­za­les wants to es­tab­lish poli­cies and pro­ce­dures fo­cused on treat­ing ad­dic­tion and men­tal ill­ness among cer­tain non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers. He says com­mu­ni­ty­based treat­ment pro­grams, rather than prison, are more ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing crime and save the county money.

Sha­ef­fer has crit­i­cized Gon­za­les’ fo­cus on bail and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form, say­ing the county al­ready has es­tab­lished pro­grams that

aim to di­vert non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers from jail. He said it’s the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s job to en­force the law, not pick and choose what crimes to pros­e­cute. If crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form is needed, it should be done on the state level, Sha­ef­fer said.

Cite and re­lease: Gon­za­les said he be­lieves in a cite-and-re­lease pro­gram to di­vert some peo­ple charged with low-level mis­de­meanors — in­clud­ing those caught with small amounts of mar­i­juana — from jail to a pre­trial di­ver­sion pro­gram, sim­i­lar to one that La­Hood an­nounced this year but sel­dom has been used.

Sha­ef­fer said he’s not op­posed to such a pro­gram but said there needs to be clear guide­lines in place to guaran- tee the pro­gram’s suc­cess. He said the ini­tia­tive un­veiled by La­Hood’s of­fice didn’t work be­cause the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice rushed into it. Sha­ef­fer also said there should be some sort of con­se­quence for in­di­vid­u­als who are caught with small amounts of mar­i­juana. “Do you really learn any­thing if you get a ticket?” he asked.

Com­bat­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence: Both can­di­dates have em­pha­sized the need to ad­dress fam­ily vi­o­lence in Bexar County, which has one of the high­est rates in Texas.

Sha­ef­fer said he plans to hire a full-time chief ded­i­cated to over­see­ing the Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Unit, thus in­creas­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion among as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors who han­dle fam­ily vi­o­lence cases. He said it’s also im­por­tant to pro­vide in­creased coun­sel­ing and ser­vices for as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors in the Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Unit, many of whom ex­pe­ri­ence burnout due to the dif­fi­cult na­ture of the cases and the high caseload.

Gon­za­les has said there are only four trial pros­e­cu­tors as­signed to han­dle mis­de­meanor fam­ily vi­o­lence as­sault cases, which each one han­dling more than 1,000 cases a year. He would like to “beef up” the Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Unit by re­al­lo­cat­ing per­son­nel from other di­vi­sions. He also would like to in­crease train­ing for vic­tims’ ad­vo­cates — pro­fes­sion­als trained to guide vic­tims through the process and pro­vide emo­tional sup­port.

Cy­ber crime: Sha­ef­fer has used his cam­paign to high­light the prob­lem of crim­i­nals prey­ing on the el­derly through tele­mar­ket­ing and in­ter­net scams. He said he would like to create a cy­ber crime unit to tar­get such fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­ity and pros­e­cute it. Gon­za­les has said he does not be­lieve there is enough cy­ber crime in Bexar County to war­rant a spe­cial­ized unit, but he agreed such crim­i­nals should be pros­e­cuted. Cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment: Sha­ef­fer has crit­i­cized Gon­za­les for his re­sponse in Fe­bru­ary dur­ing a Demo­cratic can­di­date fo­rum at which Gon­za­les said he would not seek the death penalty know­ing that mi­nori­ties are more likely to be se­lected for death than white peo­ple. Gon­za­les said he thought he was be­ing asked about whether he op­poses cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment based specif­i­cally on racial dis­par­ity. He said he re­serves the right to seek the death penalty, but only with “over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence of guilt.” Sha­ef­fer has said he would seek the death penalty but re­serve it for “a small per­cent­age of the cases out there.” Ju­ve­niles in adult court: Both can­di­dates agree that ju­ve­niles only should be charged as an adult if ac­cused of a se­ri­ous, vi­o­lent of­fense. Sha­ef­fer has said he would like to see the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity raised from 17 to 18, but ul­ti­mately that would be up to the state Leg­is­la­ture.

Use of force cases: Both can­di­dates have said they won’t hes­i­tate to pros­e­cute law en­force­ment of­fi­cers ac­cused of ex­ces­sive force or crimes. Sha­ef­fer has pointed to his time as an as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tor dur­ing which he suc­cess­fully pros­e­cuted two law en­force­ment of­fi­cers ac­cused of crimes.

Gon­za­les has said he would like to es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity re­view board to look over cases in­volv­ing law en­force­ment of­fi­cers. He said a re­view board will help build trust and pro­vide com­mu­nity in­put on crit­i­cal cases. Sha­ef­fer said he’s op­posed to such an idea, as that’s the job of a grand jury, but he said he would have an open-door pol­icy for any­one in the com­mu­nity who wants to dis­cuss con­cerns.

Fi­nan­cial back­ers: Gon­za­les has raised roughly $1.4 mil­lion since De­cem­ber 2017, when he an­nounced his can­di­dacy. Nearly $1 mil­lion came from the Texas Jus­tice & Pub­lic Safety po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, a group funded by lib­eral bil­lion­aire Ge­orge Soros. Sha­ef­fer has raised about $277,000 in that same time, most of it con­tri­bu­tions from the lo­cal busi­ness com­mu­nity. Sha­ef­fer has ac­cused Gon­za­les of be­ing be­holden to lib­eral in­ter­ests, while Gon­za­les has warned that Sha­ef­fer will be in­debted to the lo­cal busi­ness com­mu­nity.

Demo­crat Joe D. Gon­za­les, left, and Tylden Sha­ef­fer, the Repub­li­can, are run­ning for Bexar County dis­trict at­tor­ney. Both can­di­dates have roughly 30 years of le­gal ex­pe­ri­ence as as­sis­tant pros­e­cu­tors and pri­vate de­fense at­tor­neys.

Car­los Javier Sanchez / Con­trib­u­tor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.